Over the last few years the idea of body positivity has really taken off and entered the mainstream. You only have to search the hashtag on Instagram to be met with millions of pictures of people of all shapes and sizes. But you know what? I have a problem with this body positivity thing.
Before I start, I should say that I am one of those people whose weight has fluctuated a lot over the years. If my chronic hormone disorder decides not to play ball, I can easily put on the best part of a stone in a matter of weeks. I’ve been everything from a size 8 (which in hindsight looked awfully skinny on my 5’10” frame) to a post-divorce size 16. I’m a size 14 now and I am the most accepting and loving of my body that I have ever been. It’s just got me through a major pandemic, what more could I ask of it?!
That’s not to say I haven’t fallen for the weight-loss fads at my lowest points. I’ve tried everything – the latest diets, the skinny teas, the shakes, the waist trainers… I shudder at the amount of money I spent on these trends. Inevitably, I didn’t lose any weight and the sense of failure left me more depressed about my size than before. I tell you this as I want you to know my appreciation for my body has not always been a given.
If you’re still reading this you’re probably starting to wonder what my problem with body positivity is. I’m a woman who has learned to accept and love my body – surely that’s the end of the conversation?
My main problem with body positivity is the fact it places all the emphasis on loving our bodies squarely on our shoulders – thereby absolving shops, fashion designers and the media of any blame. And I’m not buying it.
The reasons many people hate their bodies go deeper than a Dove ad can explain. You can’t undo decades of structural sexism overnight, and suddenly wake up one morning loving a body that the media and society has spent years telling you doesn’t conform to their ideal. Bet yet that is what we’re expected to do. And it’s too much to ask.
The same companies that use the term body positivity in their marketing campaigns have been selling insecurity for years. Yes, there are more plus size fashion ranges in women’s clothes retailers than ever before, but rewind just a few years and you will find this wasn’t always the case. Glossy magazines and catwalks are still dominated by skinny supermodels, and there are shops I don’t dare enter because I know that nothing will fit over my (average) size 14 thigh. I feel like companies have jumped on body positivity as this concept to make them more relatable to customers, but the empathy stops in the marketing department and doesn’t always translate to the shop floor.
As always, social media has a lot to answer for. I’ve actually started unfollowing body positive influencers on Instagram. Why? Because I’m a human being and I get bad days where I don’t like my body. The last thing I want to see on those days is a tribe of happy smiley people who inadvertently make me feel like even more of a failure as my self-love cup isn’t running over. I feel like the pressure to be thin and beautiful has been replaced by the pressure to be body confident.
I also feel there’s a bit of hypocrisy around the whole body positivity movement – but I am guilty of it too. I say I love my body, but I know that tonight I will be in the bath removing every single hair deemed ‘unwomanly’. This will then be followed by my weekly date with the fake tan bottle, where I try to change the colour of my skin. Tomorrow I’ll then pile on the makeup and style my coloured hair. I say I love my body, but I am still trying to change so much of it. We only use the term body positivity in relation to size, as if that’s the one feature that defines our aesthetic worth. If we accept our body for what it is and label ourselves body positive, we can somehow overlook the smaller insecurities we try to cover up everyday.
I also find it deeply ironic that a movement that is supposed to be based on positivity has, in some cases, gone too far and is being used to shame people who want to lose weight. I was inspired to write this post by my friend Katrina over at Real Girls Wobble. She’s done a great job of healthily losing weight over the past few months, but recently had to write a blog post to defend being on a healthy diet.
Its okay to want want to lose weight – if you do it healthily and for the right reasons. Katrina was told she should be happy with her body and be a body positive advocate. But what about she wanted? Why should she listen to somebody else’s opinion about her body? The crux of body positivity is the acceptance of all body types, so why can’t Katrina work towards the type of body she wants? For a movement that’s all about self-acceptance, I find it ironic that some people think they are entitled to tell other people what their body should be like.
Another problem with the term body positivity is that its used so much now that its almost lost its meaning, and its becoming more of a trend than a true movement. Body positivity actually has its roots in the fat liberation movement dating back to the 1960s. The movement was more political and subversive – but now, like many things in life, its been sanitised, watered down and served up to the masses by people looking to make money. People are hoping on the bandwagon, throwing the term body positivity around with abandon, and not stopping to think about the fact that there are many people out there who have serious issues regarding their body image. There is no quick fix to loving your body, and simply labelling yourself ‘body positive’ isn’t going to change that – what ever the clever marketing and hashtags tell you.
So, even though I love my body, I won’t be using the term body positive as I realise its just not that simple. Its a flawed term and one that places too much pressure on people in different ways. I’m just going to focus on giving my body the love it deserves – and if that love takes the form of a large glass of rose and a slab of cheesecake, so be it.